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Soundtracking: "A Star is Born (2018)"

Chris Feil wraps up his look at the musical legacy of A Star is Born...

Bradley Cooper has kept with the 1976 A Star is Born’s arena template, largely correcting many of that film’s pitfalls for his directorial debut. Most obvious, the songs don’t mostly suck. And though it does lose sight of the perspective of Lady Gaga’s emerging singer somewhat, it’s more of a two-hander in terms of musical responsibility.

That shared weight is evident in the film’s showstopper “Shallow”, the song that already defines the film’s iconography and identity. It matches the “yes-and” nature of falling in love: Ally’s lyrics and soaring melody presenting the fear of taking the leap, Jackson orchestrating it to something cohesive and singular, both of them contributing the personal and universal essential to any ballad worth its luster. They’re both observational and confessional, with “I’m falling” being the most terrifying admission. Like love, the song begins with a simple feeling, and its eventual rush of emotion builds until it must be submitted to.

But the song also represents Ally’s sudden launch onto a world stage, a reckoning with the insecurities and perceptions that have kept a moment like this out of her reach. Thanks to reality television, we’ve grown accustomed to watching people, musicians in particular, achieving their dreams right before us and in real time. Gaga however turns this into an art, Ally’s trepidation sketched on her face in a flurry of confusion and mixed emotions, her voice straining beautifully with nerves. The emotional subtext for us in the audience is that of seeing superstar destiny fulfilled. She’s also a for-real movie star now.

Though “Shallow” may be this film’s signature song, it finds more thematically weighted kinship to the 1954 Cukor version’s musical peak with “Always Remember Us This Way”. With so much happening in “Shallow”’s narrative moment, this number seems initially like the first time the film allows us to just bask in the music. But like how “The Man That Got Away” is an omen for its heroine’s future, this song is also like a ghost from the future, a warning from the future to enjoy it while it’s easy. There’s a graveness to the sound before it gets swoony, like the unavoidability of Jackson’s affliction that casts a shadow over their romance.

Much like “Maybe It’s Time” feels like Jackson’s past selves haunting him in the present, taking on new meaning in the years since it became his definitive song, it’s not difficult to imagine a future Ally performing the song with more tragic overtones. Or with the gratitude of hindsight if the song holds true, if Jack’s legacy remains their connection rather than the pain that consumed him.

Call it a simple ballad, maybe the most accessible outside of the film’s narrative, but it should be “Shallow”’s primary challenger for the Original Song Oscar. Even worthy of overtaking it.

The revelry of song appropriately halves the film before it focuses on darker days. This gives way to the more outright pop stylings that have been equal parts praised for bopability and condemned as the signifying trait of the film’s ills, depending on which of the vocal vantages you belong. To my ear, these songs are presented appropriately as business rather than the joyful indulgences of their collaboration - presented no differently or less distanced than Jackson’s performances while on the road.

They are written as consumable product (I’d argue without condescension), so it’s no surprise that we enjoy them more when listening back rather than watching them unfold. They’re singles and we’re allowed to like those too.

In terms of Oscar (and pesky rules limiting only two nominees in the category), the stronger chances may fall to the film’s big emotional finish, “I”ll Never Love Again”. Here Lady Gaga gets the big orchestral moment we hoped for with her screen debut, and one to convince any stray naysayers unconvinced by her rooted reality. Though Cooper codas the finale with a bruising note of grace for the tragic love story, he saves the best A Star is Born trope for last: diva worship for his star. With her final tear fading into her powerful vocals in “Is That Alright” over the closing credits, we’ve witnessed her next, most triumphant evolution. Her Ally moves forward too.

Soundtracking A Star Is Born:
1954 and Judy Garland
1976 and Barbra Streisand

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (15)

I hated I”ll Never Love Again with all my heart. When it started it took me out of the movie, it sounds so out of place, that character would never write a song like that. It's so 90s Diane Warren, Celine Dion reject, the arrangement sounds like a generic David Foster production. It really annoyed me, lol.

The songs are really what made the movie to me. Most of the songs are really good, and the live feel is well done, Gaga is such a good performer and when she sings she puts so much into it, it pulls you in. When she is just acting, I found it okay, did not move me that much.

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterV.

The one that sounds like Diane Warren is “I”ll Never Love Again”. Such a bland song to end the movie. “Always Remember Us This Way” is an instant classic and should be nominated.

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I think the song score solves the film’s internal riddle about authenticity. The great revelation from the parking lot scene is “I think you’re a songwriter.”

Ally’s songwriting gifts transcend genre and her (somewhat irrelevant) personal identity as an artist. She has the chops to write for Sara Bareilles, Selena Gomez, Whitney Houston, Carole King, Florence Welch, and so on. Jackson sees music as the ultimate personal statement; Ally possesses an intuition for what *works* musically. Even “Shallow” is a Frankenstein of two songs Ally was writing, which she discovers “work” together.

That's why she has no shame about the type of pop Jackson considers "beneath her." To Ally, it can't be beneath her because she wrote it, and it works.

He’s an artist, she’s a craftsman. I think of her as a young Sia, rather than a young Gaga.

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Awesome perspective Hayden!

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSoSue

I'm mixed on the film but love, love, love how the first half of the movie builds to "Shallow." Anyone else, though, feel like it's a very direct sibling to "Falling Slowly" from Once. Similar lyric conceits, similar purposes in the films, similar building to soaring duet of music making. And likely similar oscar results.

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

For me --- “Always Remember Us This Way” and “Maybe It’s Time” are the BEST two songs by each.... overall - the soundtrack is a good companion to the movie.

I actually prefer hearing the "pop" songs from the soundtrack (audio)...vs. watching them in the movie visually....(the performance(s) of the pop songs were weak to me)....

Good movie !!

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterceebee

Shallow should be the one nominated.

Oh this movie, i just wish it was better. I'm so disappointed...

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAni di

I really disliked "I'll Never Love Again". The orchestration was nice and Lady Gaga sang it lovely, but those lyrics were so on the nose. It didn't feel like something that character would write. All that being said, I think the soundtrack is strong overall. I think the pop songs could've been a little less derivative (there ain't nothing "Bad Romance" level here), but hearing that lyric about some dude's ass was wonderfully ridiculous moment. Again, pretty on the nose, but I get it (she hasn't found her fucking legs yet). My favorite song is "I Don't Know What Love Is". I think the duets just soar, but I really loved hearing this song over the wedding scene.

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVal

Diane Warren fucking sucks! And fuck David Foster too. "Hey, look at all the Grammys I've won". He actually did that in that documentary about Chicago and I was like "OH WOW, WHO FUCKING CARES!!!"

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Chris, I love the way you describe how these gorgeous songs work in different ways on the audience. You really captured the fascinating subtext of the music.

OTT, but it's driving me crazy that I can't place the song on the intro of your podcast This Had Oscar Buzz--please reveal!

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

My Top 4:
1. Shallow
2. Maybe It's Time
3. Always Remember Us This Way
4. Is It Alright?

I will be sad if any of these songs loses out on a nomination to "I'll Never Love Again."

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Jackson wrote "I'll Never Love Again," not Ally. It's both a tribute to HIM through Ally's vocals and a by-product of his songwriting/artistic abilities. The song isn't something she would write, but totally interpret. The 90s realness is what gives the song its power. I have no problems with it being the finale, and it's my favorite song from the album (yes, even more than the precious future Oscar winner "Shallow").

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterclyde

brookesboy - "Every1's A Winner" by Hot Chocolate

October 17, 2018 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I love "I'll Never Love Again" and hope it wins the Oscar.

October 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterFR

No love for Look What I Found!?

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNick.or.Treat

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